About three years ago, I started thinking about Birthright. I found the website for Taglit-Birthright Israel, also known as Birthright Israel or simply Birthright, a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free 10-day heritage trips to Israel for young Jewish adults, ages 18 to 32. Once I turned 18, I did a little more research and found that Yachad, an organization for people with special needs, sponsors these trips together with Birthright. I immediately signed up.
On the day that I was leaving my sister got engaged, so it was crazy in my house. I was happy and at the same time overwhelmed. But I was definitely excited as I left for JFK to meet the group. The people were nice and the plane ride was fun but also very tiring.
When we got to Tel Aviv, I ate my first Israeli dinner and we got to meet our tour guide (Avi Baldasare). What an awesome guy! We went to check into our hotel in Hispin, in the north of Israel. The first day we went jeep riding in the Golan Heights. We stopped for a couple of minutes to learn which countries are near Israel: Syria and Lebanon. And they are only five minutes from the place where we went jeeping!
Later we learned about northern Israel and then we went on a boat ride. In the hotel they served lentil soup, Israeli salad, bread, hummus, potatoes, rice, meatballs and chicken for dinner.
The next day we went to Chorazin to meet some IDF soldiers. We went to Safed with them to a candle-making factory, where we got to make our own candles. Then we visited a sofer and learned about the Torah, how it’s made, and what’s in a Torah, mezuzah and tefillin. After that, we went to Dafna, to the chocolate factory.
The next day we went to Ein HaEmek, to the Emek HaShalom Farm. The farm was an amazing place to take pictures and do stuff with our group. I learned how they make oil in Israel, and how they make water. We made our own air freshener there from spices and oil. Then we drove to Ben Yehuda; that was beautiful.
The next day we went to Yad Vashem. On the way there I sat next to one of the soldiers. She teaches Ivrit in the IDF and she’s also in charge of four other people in her unit. Yad Vashem was very emotional; I learned new stuff that I hadn’t been taught before. It was amazing.
Shabbat in Jerusalem was nice. I davened the Friday night services. For dinner, they had chicken soup, duck, rice, couscous, potatoes and a whole buffet of desserts. Shabbat day I went to shul in the hotel, and after shul we had a kiddush and lunch. Then we walked to a nice park in Ramat Rachel. I got to hear the Muslim prayer call; it was a really nice and interesting thing to hear.
The next day we went to the Old City. I baked challah by the kotel, ate lunch by the large menorah in the Rova Square and ran into friends as we walked through the Old City. We went to the Kotel, which was the best! I got to daven Mincha and more there. After that we went to the Davidson Center, which is an archaeological park.
The next day we went to Alon, went camel riding and had a Tu B’Shevat snack. Later we went to a great pizza store in Kfar Adumim. Then we had programs at Ein Gedi and ended the day at Papagaio, a very good restaurant.
The next day we went to Tel Aviv and visited the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. We stopped at the Taglit Innovation Center and learned about different technology in Israel, such as Waze and WhatsApp. Then we went to the Tel Aviv shuk and got some ice cream, and then we went to the Tel Aviv beach where we had a closing meeting with the IDF soldiers.
The next day we went to Beit Guvrin to take part in an archaeological dig. After that we ate dinner in Ramot Polin, where we had bread, hummus, kebabs, two types of chicken and salad, and then it was time to return to the airport to head back to America. The trip was really amazing!
By Aryeh Mack
Aryeh Mack is a chef at BPY and a photographer. You can find his videos on youtube.com/aryehmack. He is part of the Heichal SINAI program.